My Mom Fooled the Doctor about her Memory–How does that happen?

When my mom came to live with me, I changed her primary care physician to my own personal doctor. His office was near-by and I was already familiar with office and staff.
Shortly afterwards, I phoned for an appointment so Dr. Smith could meet Mom and assess her stage of Alzheimer’s. Not wanting to speak of Mom’s symptoms in front of her during the appointment, I requested the nurse give Dr. Smith a note of my intentions. I had already transfered her medical records and knew he could glance over those prior to our appointment.

Fortunately, Mom was having a good day when we arrived for her appointment. We had entered the stage of Alzheimer’s where there were good days and bad days, and catastrophic days, so I felt fortunate that this was to be a “good day.”

Without waiting for me, Mom stepped forward, shook hands and introduced herself to Dr. Smith as soon as he entered the small examining room. In an almost flirtatious manner she answered Dr. Smith’s questions and kept a conversation running for several minutes. She told him brightly, “she’d never been hospitalized, she’d never had any kind of surgery, no heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s in her family, she was extremely healthy, and extremely feisty for her age.”  She asked about his life and they were both surprised to learn that they had many family and acquaintances shared in common. Dr. Smith spoke of an “out of state” relative and learned that Mom not only knew his relative but had carried on a mail correspondence with that person for many years.

Listening over my shoulder I was more than pleased,  I kept my head down and continued to fill in the blanks of Mom’s “actual” medical history on the form the nurse had given me.

I could tell by the chit-chat behind me that Dr. Smith was impressed, considering Mom’s stage of Alzheimer’s her vocabulary was great and recollection of events even better. I had rarely met another Alzheimer’s patient who spoke as well as Mom while in the later stages of disease. I hoped Dr. Smith was making mental notes.  I’m thinking all this chatter can only help in his assessment later.

Finally, Dr. Smith turned his back to Mom and spoke to me, “She’s a delight. You know–” he lowered his voice so only I could hear, “some of these doctors make mistakes. It’s easy to slap a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s on someone who happened to have a slip of memory on a single day.”

He took my hand.  “Your mom is fine. I wouldn’t worry about any Alzheimer’s, either. Her memory is just fine,” he assured me.

My jaw dropped! I was speechless.

Dr. Smith had just implied that mom’s physician had made a mistake–or intentionally given her a false diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. I was astounded. My mother had totally fooled him with 10 minutes of gibberish that didn’t contain a single word of truth.

I stood and  handed Dr. Smith the record of Mom’s medical history that I had just filled out–and waited while he glanced through it. After several long minutes–his jaw dropped.

My Mother’s Medical History included:

  • Hospitalization for Gallbladder Surgery
  • Hospitalization for Hysterectomy
  • Hospitalization for Breast Cancer/Mastectomy
  • Hospitalized for 2 childbirths/I was born in my grandmother’s house
  • Her sister died from Heart Disease and a brother from Alzheimer’s

My mother had no memory of any of these things. And was totally certain she had spoke the truth to Dr. Smith. When an Alzheimer’s patient can no longer remember a past event, they invent a new one.

Mom had never met, nor was she familiar with any of the people connected with Dr. Smith, including his “out of state” relative that Mom had claimed mail correspondence with. She was only agreeing with him. When she saw the approval in his eye–she made up more stories. Much like a child,  she wanted to be right, she wanted to be normal, she wanted to pretend that she could remember.

As you can see from my story, not all doctors are wise to this ability of the Alzheimer’s patient to invent or change history. Doctors know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they can give the tests for Alzheimer’s and they can diagnose Alzheimers. But you must live with an Alzheimer’s patient to know what they do and how they behave. Until you’ve lived with an Alzheimer’s patient, been a caregiver for that person, you have no idea what it is like to be an Alzheiemr’s patient. And how easy they can fool you.

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Due to the cognitive decline for Alzheimer’s and Dementia patient’s, they are no longer able to read the hands on a conventional clock.
Already confused, this only ads to their bewilderment. You might notice how
often they ask the date and time. Digital Clocks and wrist
watches can help with this issue as they are more easily understood.


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16-inch X 7.5-inch Digital Wall or Counter Top Clock


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Comments

  1. My mom did the same thing – she would be chatty and telling the doctor all sorts of things that sounded reasonable while I would sit behind her shaking my hear. One day I walked into her assisted living common room and everyone said “We though you were in Austraiia” Of course I wasn’t and had never been, but my mom had everyone believing I was there at some sort of conference. She was a very very bright woman and was able to cover up her memory loss with completely plausible stories that were absolute fiction.

    • ~ Sandy says:

      Hi Jill,
      I know. A couple times I would tell my brothers about Mom’s big “tales,” and I was never really sure they believed me. Sometimes I could only giggle when someone believed some of the outlandish stories.

      Great memories later, though–

      Thanks for your writing, Jill. I enjoy hearing when others were just the same as my Mom.

      ~Sandy

  2. OMG, sometimes the doctors can be so easily fooled if they don’t have a long history with the patient. I remember a time when we were in the hospital with Mother Dear and the doctor on call came in for a cursory visit. As part of the conversation, he asked if she knew the date. Unbeknownst to him, she looked right over his shoulder at the big daily calendar on the wall. He was impressed until I was a tattle tale and called her out on it!

    • ~ Sandy says:

      Ahh, that is too funny!

      Yep, I was surprised with my doc, especially since I had called ahead and spoke with his nurse. I told her about Mom’s Alz and said I’d give them her medical history later. Nope, he took it upon himself to ignore me and take her at ‘face value.’ She had him totally convinced that she’d had a long standing friendship with his brother in another state and they corresponded regularly. I had to turn my back to keep from busting out laughing. The funny part was, Mom wasn’t lying– she believed every word she was saying.

      I always wondered if he was so eager to dash another doctor’s diagnosis after that.

  3. This is called “social facade” and is very often the case with Alzheimer’s patients, especially those who are highly intelligent. In our community, we have many retired university faculty members. The person comes to the neurologist for “memory issues,” often with one of their concerned children. The doctor will talk to the person and wonder why on earth anyone would think he/she had memory issues. Often, even the Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) fails to show the issues they have. However, if the doctor does a variety of tests — MMSE, clock test, neuro-psychological testing, etc. — the doctor can usually tease out the memory problems. This is why it’s important to choose a physician of whatever variety (FP, internist, geriatrician, neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist, etc.) who has significant experience in diagnosing and managing AD patients. Those who are not as familiar with the disease will not be able to identify the nuances of the disease process until the person is in the later stages. Conversely, doctors who are not as familiar with the disease process may improperly diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s who in actuality has some other completely treatable cause of dementia — depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, etc.

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